- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

Even the Iraqi information minister himself might have trouble believing this one.
A Connecticut company is selling a talking doll based on the poker-faced Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, whose increasingly ludicrous tirades on television earned him legions of fans as "Baghdad Bob" during the war on Iraq.
Press a button on his back to activate a voice chip that plays some of his choice remarks to reporters.
"There are no American infidels in Baghdad. Never."
"They're not even within 100 miles of Baghdad."
"Our initial assessment is that they will all die."
Herobuilders.com Corp. in Danbury, Conn., began selling the 12-inch "Iraqi Dis-Information Minister" doll this week.
The company also sells dolls based on President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, and John Walker Lindh, the so-called "American Taliban."
The bin Laden doll has been the hottest seller by far, but the al-Sahhaf figure is closing in fast, said Emil Vicale, president of Herobuilders.com.
"I can't give you a number, because I can't stop the e-mail from flowing in. Put it this way: It's in the thousands," he said.
During the war, Mr. al-Sahhaf repeatedly said Iraq was winning. In his most famous outburst, he stood on a Baghdad hotel roof and told reporters the allied forces were being defeated, even as American tanks could be heard rolling through the city.
The talking doll, dressed in Mr. al-Sahhaf's trademark army fatigues and black beret, sells for $35.95. A non-talking version costs $24.95.
In some cases, the voice doll owners hear isn't actually Mr. al-Sahhaf's, because some of his quotes weren't spoken in English, Mr. Vicale said.
Al-Sahhaf mania is running rampant.
A Web site devoted to the Iraqi spokesman, www.welovetheiraqiinformationminister.com, crashed last week because too many people tried to log on at once.
To help pay for the site, the operators started selling T-shirts, coffee mugs and aprons that bear some of Mr. al-Sahhaf's famous quotes.
Mr. al-Sahhaf has not been seen on television since the fall of Baghdad.
Two Iranian newspapers reported this week that Mr. al-Sahhaf killed himself as the allied forces closed in on Baghdad. Military sources told the Times of London they were treating the reports with caution, suggesting the fleeing propagandist may have spread the story to throw special forces off his trail.
Mr. Vicale, whose office was swamped yesterday by reporters and television news crews, said he does not know what he will do if Mr. al-Sahhaf's death is confirmed.
"I haven't even given that much thought. I don't know. If Saddam died, would we stop selling his action figure? Probably not, because he's an evil guy. At the end of the day, we're just making action figures."
Herobuilders.com has five employees working full time to fill the orders for the al-Sahhaf dolls, although Mr. Vicale said he expects to bring in some temporary workers. All of the dolls are hand-painted.
Mr. Vicale started the company, a subsidiary of a plastics-design firm he owns, last year, after friends liked the President Bush doll he made for his desk.
Eventually, he expanded into a villains line. Many customers use the bin Laden doll for target practice.
The company also sells clothing for the dolls, including a pink dress Mr. Vicale recommends for the bin Laden doll.
Talking dolls "Babbling Osama" and President Bush cost $35.95 each. The non-talking figures each cost $29.95, although they are on sale for $24.95.
Sculptures of recently captured terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and of Michael Jackson dangling a baby over a balcony, billed as the "King of Pop Baby Drop," cost $49.95 apiece.
Herobuilders.com recently began breaking even, Mr. Vicale said. He declined to provide the company's annual revenue.
So far, larger toy companies haven't announced plans to cash in on the war in Iraq.
"We're not able to discuss right now what may or may not be in the works," said Stacey Roberts, spokeswoman for Hasbro Inc., which has sold dolls based on Colin L. Powell, John F. Kennedy and Bob Hope under its G.I. Joe banner.
Sales for some novelty toys don't always sizzle.
In summer 1987, after Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North's testimony captivated the nation during the Iran-Contra hearings, a San Francisco couple lost $30,000 trying to market a doll based on him.
By that Christmas, the couple announced plans to recover their loss by taking the Oliver North head off the doll's body and replacing it with a likeness of Mikhail Gorbachev, at the time the popular Soviet leader.

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